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Loose cannon at sea and at work

“Loose cannon” originates from naval parlance. Until the mid 19th century, naval cannon were very heavy discrete objects, mounted on wheels, with ropes to hold them in place and drag them back into position after being fired. (This wasn’t a design flaw; basic physics required it). If a cannon escaped its securing ropes, especially in rough weather or manoeuvring, it would roll around the ship and cause immense internal damage. There were only two things to do. Tie the cannon down quickly; failing that, use its momentum to quickly push it overboard. No procrastination; secure or jettison, now!

You’ll come across loose cannon in business too: someone nominally on the team (operational, management or governance), but who causes a lot of internal mayhem and strife. Unfortunately, many leaders dither and hand-wring while the loose cannon continues wrecking their team’s ship. Your choice is the same as the sailors’. No procrastination: secure or jettison, now!

First published 3 August 2009